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Bibliophile reviews Payback (thriller) by Fern Michaels

Year published: 2004
Genre: Thriller
Sub-genre(s): Fantasy (not Fantasy fantasy, just unrealistic enough to be called one)

The Story: Seven women with something to avenge have formed a Sisterhood of revenge, aided by a former MI6 operative. In this second book in the series, Dr. Julia Webster, the wife of a senator who is about to be announced as the running mate to the next Democrat presidential candidate, serves up her revenge cold. The philandering husband has infected her with HIV and isn't even aware he has it. She also wants to punish the owners of an HMO who have been avoiding paying their subscribers' claims, resulting in the deaths of many who would have lived had they got the proper treatment. The party where the candidate will announce his running mate is the perfect place to grab the bad guys and start the punishment. But there is one snag: the former boyfriend of one of the women thinks they were involved in the disappearance of a woman who murdered her daughter's killer, and he will not rest until he sees them behind bars for obstructing justice.

Technique and plot: When I picked up this book and read the blurb, I thought it sounded interesting enough to pay 50 kronur (original price: 1300 kr.) for it and read it. I had recently read a rather funny Icelandic revenge tale about jilted girlfriends who got together and punished the dogs who treated them badly, and thought it would be interesting to see Michaels' take on the subject.

Guess what? I can not believe this person has written more than 70 books, some of them best-sellers. Need I say more? She has fans, so I guess I should substantiate this. The storytelling is simply not polished enough for such an experienced author. In fact, the book reads like a first book, with typical firstbookitis symptoms that a good editor would have corrected, and one is tempted to think the writing has been farmed out (in the best tradition of Barbara Cartland), simply because it's hard to believe that such an experienced author would make such basic mistakes as this novel is full of. An example would be the constant repetition of Charles being Myra's one true love. Do we really need to be told more than once? Apparently the author thinks it needs to be hammered home, which I think shows a deplorable lack of faith in her reader's ability to remember things and likewise a regrettable lack of good editing. There are numerous errors of logic in the story, and while I am quite ready to believe that intelligence agencies the world over work together on covert operations, I refuse to accept that Interpol is involved. But then the book is probably written for an audience that doesn't care about small details, like the stupidity of using one's own truck to carry out a kidnapping, or that the sudden financial magnanimity of hitherto ungenerous people followed by their disappearance along with that of a US senator would not cause a stir and start an investigation, or that people can be hypnotised into permanently forgetting who they are. But then this is a fantasy, and should make happy all those who enjoy reading about vigilante justice and can look past the bad writing.

Ah, yes. The writing? A high-school student could have written this text - n o, scratch that, it's an insult to high school students to say that. There is an interesting story in there somewhere but it gets bogged down in bad writing and has a very childish fantasy ending.

Rating: Badly written, badly edited, with a semi-interesting story that a better writer could have done justice. 1 star for the story.


Anonymous said…
I must concur with this review. I was astounded, upon reading this book, that Fern Michaels is such an acclaimed author. I found the writing to be incredibly childlike. There were numerous run-on sentences, especially in the dialogue amongst characters. I, too, had my interest peaked when I read the synopsis on the back of the book. Unfortunately, I was greatly disappointed.

I read another book in the series (I've already forgotten the name), hoping that "Payback" was an aberration. Sadly, the second book was written in a similar fashion.

I will not be reading any more "novels" by this author.
Anonymous said…
My wife and I absolutely agree. Not knowing anything about the author, we listened to Payback read on audiobooks by Laural Merlington, and found the story bad, the writing poor, and the reading poor.

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